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Archives for February 1, 2016

Urban farming work sows discord


Officials cite lack of proper permits, neighbors add complaints

A Toledo man’s effort to establish “urban agriculture” in Toledo’s central city is running up against nuisance complaints brought by neighbors.

Thomas Jackson, 44, of 1489 Milburn Ave., has piled up wood chips on seven parcels centering on Auburn and Milburn avenues.

He said his goal is to produce organic vegetables. Neighbors think he’s storing wood chips from his tree-removal business.

“My plan is to grow and sell organic food. The whole goal is to change the eating habits of the people around me,” Mr. Jackson said. “I’m not trying to hinder anyone’s enjoyment of their life. I’m trying to enjoy my right to make a living for my family and clean up my neighborhood.”

Mr. Jackson was cited for maintaining a nuisance on three of his lots, at 1505 Milburn Ct., 1446 Macomber St., and 2325 Swiler Dr. The cases are scheduled to be heard in Toledo Municipal Court on Feb. 10 at 9 a.m.

The case reveals some of the problems with introducing agriculture into the urban environment. Still, Mr. Jackson’s efforts have attracted some support.

Bryan Ellis, an urban agriculture instructor for Toledo Public Schools and former head of the Toledo GROWs urban farm near downtown, said he plans to assign students to work for Mr. Jackson. Mr. Ellis said urban agriculture will contribute to economic development while helping to improve the quality of the public’s diet.

Thomas Jackson, right, defends his efforts to beautify the neighborhood around his Milburn Avenue home in Toledo to City Councilman Mike Craig.


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“Thomas is setting himself to be one of the predominant growers in northwest Ohio, and he will be using some of my students as assistants,” Mr. Ellis said.

Mr. Jackson maintains he has been targeted by Toledo City Councilman Tyrone Riley because Mr. Riley is related to one of the neighbors, Melvin Hughes, whose wife, Janice Hughes, complained.

Mr. Riley said his mother and Mr. Hughes’ father were cousins.

“I received numerous complaints from the residents regarding increasing in the size and number of rodents in the area, a bad smell, and just overall concern about the condition about the neighborhood and the property,” Mr. Riley said. “They’ve sent me pictures of trucks dumping mulch.”

He said Mr. Jackson’s claim of operating an urban farm is “cute,” but it still has to comply with zoning regulations.

“If that’s what he’s doing, he’s doing it without obtaining the necessary permits to do so,” Mr. Riley said.

Mrs. Hughes said she complained last year but did not pursue the complaint. Later, she said, Mr. Riley asked her about it, and she provided cell-phone images of the trucks parked around Mr. Jackson’s house. She also said she has been cited by the city for the condition of her own property.

“The city has fined us for numerous things, and I don’t understand why he isn’t being fined, all those vehicles over there. I’m not against anyone being an entrepreneur, bettering themselves, but we’re in a residential neighborhood,” Mrs. Hughes said.

City officials said Mr. Riley’s relative has the same right to enjoy her property and to complain about nuisances as anyone.

Mr. Jackson said he came to Toledo from Illinois to play football at the University of Toledo but left early. He said he enrolled at the University of Findlay and played football in 1994 but dropped out and returned in 1998 to complete a degree in social studies.

Back in Toledo and married, he tried home renovation, buying three properties. But he lost money on the effort and gave it up.

In recent years, he has been in landscaping and tree removal. He was certified in 2008 as a master Ohio nursery technician by the Ohio Landscape and Nursery Association, and he earned a certificate in aquaculture from the Ohio State University Extension Office and the Ohio Aquaculture Association in Piketon, Ohio, in 2014, the OLNA and OSU Extension Office confirmed.

Mr. Jackson’s interest in landscaping and horticulture has transformed the appearance of his block of Auburn Avenue. Some of Mr. Jackson’s parcels are fronted by trees and shrubs planted in tall mounds and meticulously pruned. He said he has planted more than 500 trees he acquired through his tree-installation and tree-removal business.

The most recent additions to his properties are mounds of wood chips he has allowed other tree companies to deposit on his property. 

Mr. Jackson said he is leveling off the woodchip piles at four feet with the intent of doing all of his farming without plants’ roots entering the original soil below. That arrangement would keep any unknown contaminants in that soil from affecting the plants.

The city wants a cease-and-desist order to stop the storage of mulch without a plan, City Neighborhoods Director Tom Kroma said. He denied that the city is hostile to new ideas such as urban agriculture.

“We have community gardens all over Toledo,” Mr. Kroma said. “We’d be happy to work with him. There’s no gardening in what he’s doing.”

Lisa Cottrell, administrator for the Toledo Lucas County Plan Commission, said Mr. Jackson could be cited for improper storage. And if he erects a greenhouse, a “hoop house,” or puts in pavement, Mr. Jackson would need a permit.

“Any building, any parking, we would have to see. But you can garden all day long,” Ms. Cottrell said.

Mr. Ellis said the wood chips will mature into rich growing beds.

“This is actually a fairly common growing practice for urban areas. Urban soils are contaminated” with heavy metals, lead, arsenic, and chromium, he said.

Mr. Ellis said urban farmers can prevent crop contamination by applying a layer of cover soil two or three feet thick.

Also endorsing Mr. Jackson’s efforts is Michael O’Rourke, a horticulturalist and manager for Black Diamond nursery and lawn service in Toledo.

“To them it may look like it’s debris but it’s not. He’s going to be composting,” Mr. O’Rourke said.

He said Mr. Jackson had a problem with odor that he has since mitigated, and he is using “troughing” to direct drainage away from neighbors.

“He would like to gain the approval of the residents in the area for both the site and utilizing the foods he grows within the community,” Mr. O’Rourke said.

Cindy Geronimo, the commissioner of code enforcement who had run the Lucas County Land Bank that sold many of the parcels to Mr. Jackson, said the piles of mulch, the lots’ raised elevation, and multiple trucks on Mr. Jackson’s property at Milburn violate the zoning code.

Ms. Geronimo said she has suggested he find another location to remediate the mulch.

“I’ve yet to see the actual planting,” Ms. Geronimo said.

Contact Tom Troy: or 419-724-6058 or on Twitter @TomFTroy.

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Hospice Inpatient Care Tends To The Spirit

Feb 1, 2016 5:03 PM

It’s a cold winter day in a residential neighborhood on Quiogue. The season’s first blizzard is still making its presence known, with snow and barren branches everywhere. On the street corner on Meetinghouse Road strands a newly constructed, low-slung structure, the surrounding woodlands and creek barely visible.

Yet the inside of the building is comfortable, warm and welcoming. Contrary to a first impression, this is not a business center, local hotel or apartment house.

Rather, it is East End Hospice’s new Kanas Center for Hospice Care, which will be ready to open as soon as a certificate of occupancy has been issued. The new center will allow Hospice to offer end-of-life care on an inpatient basis, as well as at patients’ homes, in hospitals and in nursing homes.

Hospice care concentrates on the psychological and spiritual needs of the patient, rather than on the disease itself, and East End Hospice has been providing care to terminally ill patients, primarily in their own homes, since 1991. Now, the Kanas Center for Hospice Care will provide eight patient suites, each with a private deck and a woodland view, a library, living room with a fireplace and an adjacent kitchenette and play area for visiting children.

This additional space will allow East End Hospice to better serve patients as well as their family and friends, a goal that has always been essential for Priscilla Ruffin, the organization’s president, CEO and founding director.

“We want people to know the importance of what’s going to happen to them—that they will be well taken care of,” said Ms. Ruffin, who draws upon her experience as a nurse and as creator of botanical watercolors which says capture the beauty of things.

“We want to provide a quiet, strong environment but one that is not so overwhelming,” she said. “We cannot change the fact that patients are dying, but we can change the process of their dying.”

This idea manifests itself in many ways. Consider, first, the liberating space and light that spills out from each separate room, pervading the entire building. While each suite is compact and protected, a small foyer connects each area to the main hallway, establishing the individual suites’ psychological proximity to each other.

Quiet places for meditation and reflection are here, too, like the library and living room with a striking fireplace. These same areas are appropriate for family gatherings as well.

An integration with nature prevails, as the interior design reflects the exterior settings complete with gardens, native plants and seasonal flowers. The subjects in the striking wall art come from nature. Curated by Arlene Bujese, an East End Hospice board member and gallery director, the paintings mirror colors of the sun, sky and land in hues of orange, blue and green.

The architect, Roger Ferris, who worked on the project for eight years, features similar colors in his furnishings. Natural materials like cork walls bring nature inside the building as well.

“When I walk through the hospice’s spaces, I can feel the people there, the warmth, the family members,” said Ralph Lambert, owner of Axis Construction Company, which worked on the project for two years. Mr. Lambert had worked previously with Ms. Ruffin at the Visiting Nurse Service of Suffolk County.

Ground for the center was broken in July 2014, after more than a decade of fundraising that ultimately raised about $10 million in donations, including $2 million donated by John and Elaine Kanas of East Moriches, for whom the building is named.

“Fifteen years ago, we were willed the Westhampton Beach property by Elmo Monfrede, and the project got started,” Ms. Ruffin explained. “There was so much red tape involved, we could fill a room with paper.”

Ms. Ruffin also needed to find an art and design team that showed empathy and trustworthiness.

That, she said, is what she found in Mr. Ferris and Mr. Lambert, as well as in Tim Rumph, a Southampton landscape designer who needed to obtain various environmental approvals even as he planned gardens, placed plants and maintained an ecosystem over two years. “Landscaping is never over,” Mr. Rumph said. “It’s always evolving.”

Ms. Ruffin’s collaboration with her creative group has yielded a setting that is uplifting for everyone involved. And the organic integration of architectural design, furnishings, landscape and art, form a complete entity.

While associations with the environment abound, there is one particular object that captures the East End Hospice’s message. It’s an abstract painting by Southampton artist Carol Hunt that hangs above the fireplace in one living room. Titled “Festivale di Bambino (“Festival of the Baby”), it was painted the week Ms. Hunt’s grandson, J.B., was born.

And it seems a fitting metaphor: a celebration of the beginning of life even as another life is ending.

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Greater Bridgeport Men’s Garden Club meets

The Greater Bridgeport Men’s Garden Club will meet Wednesday, Feb. 17, at 7 p.m., at the Sterling House Community Center, 2283 Main Street, Stratford. During the meeting members will outline the agenda and schedule for 2016.

Members normally meet the third Wednesday of the month. New members and anyone with an interest in gardening, veggies, plants and landscaping, are welcome to join the group to share knowledge, experiences, plant swaps, speakers, etc.

Nominal annual dues are $20.

For more information, call Joe 203-339-2701 or Art 203-261-9771.

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Ask an Expert: Five tips for indoor gardening

Cherry tomatoes growing

Cherry tomatoes growing

Green, red cherry tomatoes growing in the flower pots

Posted: Monday, February 1, 2016 4:35 am

Ask an Expert: Five tips for indoor gardening

Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist


Many people miss having fresh garden produce in the winter so much that they are willing to grow it indoors. This can be a little challenging, but having fresh tomatoes on a sandwich or fresh peas on a winter salad makes it worth the effort.

Growing plants in a greenhouse is an option for providing winter produce, but heating and lighting can be expensive. A more cost-effective method is to provide additional lighting and optimal temperatures and grow plants in the home. Consider these tips.

1) Location – West or south-facing windows provide sufficient light for many crops. Another option is to use inexpensive florescent lights placed approximately 6 inches from the plants. Incandescent bulbs should not be used since the wavelengths of the light they produce are not readily used by plants. Grow lights are an option, but they do not work any better than florescent bulbs and are more expensive.

2) Temperature – A good temperature for most plants is around 70 F.

Some gardeners have attempted to grow plants in an unheated garage during the winter with no success. This is not surprising since the garage acts as a natural refrigerator in the winter.

3) Soil – Potting soil works best for indoor growing and is available from many local retailers. Once plants have been growing for about a month, they often require fertilizer to keep them healthy. Mild, liquid houseplant formulations or slow-release granular products such as Osmocote™ are good choices.

4) Pests and disease – Monitor plants closely for insect pests and disease. When a plant appears to be infested, isolate it from the others to prevent further spread. Heavily infested plants should be thrown away.

5) Vegetable choices – Lettuce, peas and many herbs generally do well when grown indoors. Dwarf varieties of peas or other crops are often preferred since regular varieties may grow too large for limited indoor spaces. Dwarf varieties can be found from seed companies online and sometimes from local retailers.

The USU Crop Physiology Lab has specifically researched growing crops in indoor spaces and has identified several “super dwarf” species that work well, including Early Green Pea and Microtina Tomato. These varieties and others have actually been grown aboard the International Space Station.


Direct column topics to Julene Reese, Utah State University Extension writer, Logan, Utah, 84322-4900, 435-797-0810;

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Monday, February 1, 2016 4:35 am.

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How to grow Agapanthus, the star of the Royal Academy’s Monet to Matisse exhibition

The exhibition started this weekend and continues until April 20, featuring paintings of gardens by Claude Monet, Paul Klee, Gustav Klimt, Wassily Kandinsky and Auguste Renoir, as well as Henri Matisse.

But the star attraction is Claude Monet’s great Agapanthus Triptych of 1916 to 1919, now in American ownership and reunited in Europe for the first time since they were painted.

“I perhaps owe it to flowers that I became a painter,” Monet once said, and his garden at Giverny in Northern France is still high on many tourists’ must-see lists.

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‘Rehab Addict,’ tips for restful bedroom and February chore list: Home/ Garden News

“Rehab Addict” with host Nicole Curtis returns with new episodes on Wednesday, Feb. 3.  

“REHAB ADDICT”: Nicole Curtis focuses on renovating her grandparents’ kitchen during  the upcoming season of the DIY Network show “Rehab Addict.”

Built in 1956, the kitchen was redone in the ’90s, eliminating its mid-century modern charm. Curtis plans to restore the kitchen to how it looked when she was a child, right down to a salvaged green phone.

New episodes of “Rehab Addict” return to the DIY Network at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3. Curtis – a self-taught home rehabber, real estate expert and designer — improves neighborhoods in Detroit and Minneapolis.

The Boston Globe conducted a QA with Curtis; here are a couple of her answers:

Why is it important to restore homes?

The most important thing is that these homes are one of a kind. We’re never going to be able to rebuild them. We don’t have the tradespeople anymore to do it, we don’t have the materials that these houses were built out of, and you know, like anything else, once it’s gone it’s gone. As the economy gets better, more money floods into our cities, people start tearing stuff down at an astronomical rate. I’ll drive by in the morning and [stare] at a beautiful old home, and by evening, it’s gone.

Do you have tips for someone thinking about buying a home to restore?

Don’t be scared of buying an old home. Be intrigued, be excited that you are buying something of the highest quality. It just has a few bumps and bruises along the way.

Read the entire interview here.

RESTFUL BEDROOMS: It’s important to have a bedroom that is a peaceful haven at the end of a hectic day. Too often, our bedrooms are in need of decluttering, functional furniture and a cohesive look. Houzz put together a list of features to consider as you create your master bedroom retreat; here are a few of the tips:

Mattress. The single most important element in the bedroom is a good mattress. A model that fits your particular needs will make a big difference in the rest your body receives each night. There are seemingly endless options, so take the time to research the possibilities within your price range online before heading to a mattress store to test them.

 Bedding. Select sheets that feel soft against the skin, and blankets and comforters that provide the level of warmth you like. Take the time to try out pillows until you find one that supports your head and neck in your favored sleeping position. It’s up to you whether to pile on the accent pillows or skip them.

 Nightstand: You need a place for your lamps, clock, glass of water, favorite photographs and books. It’s OK to match the habits of each sleeper to each nightstand; they don’t have to match.

Additional furniture. If you have room, consider setting a side chair or two for reading and lounging in a corner or in front of a window. With a table and perhaps another lamp, chairs provide a cozy spot to unwind before getting ready for bed.

Read the entire Houzz article here.

FEBRUARY CHECKLIST: A new month brings new monthly home chores. Here is a list of things to do around the home and yard in February from


Check and replace humidifier filters.
Check weather stripping and caulking on windows and doors.
Thoroughly check showers and wet areas for mildew.
Spruce up interior paint jobs.

De-clutter your home: focus on desks, closets and office spaces.
Update your rooms with new furniture/color combinations.

Have your carpets professionally cleaned.


Start seeds indoors for spring cool-season transplants.
Apply pre-emergent herbicides to lawn.
Plan your vegetable rotation for the coming season.
Prune summer-blooming shrubs, conifers fruit trees.

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Garden Tips: Grow, eat your own dry beans – Tri

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses. What are pulses? Pulses are grain legumes and include dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas and lentils.

Legumes are important crops across the world because they are part of a nutritious diet, providing protein, fiber, minerals and vitamins. Also, 25 percent of the pulses grown in the world are used for feeding livestock. The U.N. is recognizing pulses in 2016 not only for the nutrition, but also because they are sustainable crops. It only takes 43 gallons of water to grow one pound of pulses, and they fix nitrogen, enriching the soils in which they are grown.

One way to observe the Year of the Pulses is to add more dry beans, chickpeas and lentils to your diet. It is a healthy way to celebrate, considering that dry beans can help lower cholesterol and aid in the prevention of diabetes and heart disease when they are regular part of your diet.

Another way to take part is by growing dry beans in your garden. The most difficult part may be deciding what varieties to plant. There are hundreds available with a diversity of types, including the better known black, kidney, pink, red kidney, small white navy and pinto beans, to the lesser known cranberry, soldier, yellow eye, Jacob’s cattle markings, purplish, flageolet and more.

Washington state already does its part in celebrating pulses by growing 115,000 acres of pulse crops, ranking seventh in the nation in pulse production. Plus, 43 percent of the lentils grown in the U.S. are grown in Washington, making our state number one in U.S. lentil production.

Check out seed catalogs from companies that offer a selection of dry bean seed, including heirloom varieties that are a continuing trend in gardening. It is a treat just to see the pretty pictures of the dry beans. One catalog to peruse comes from the Vermont Bean Seed Company at They specialize in beans, and in this catalog, they offer information on what type of cooking is best for each type of bean. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( and Seed Savers Exchange ( also offer a selection of dry bean varieties.

It’s not difficult to grow dry beans. If you can grow green beans, you can grow dry beans. Like green beans, there are bush-type dry beans that stay more compact, and pole types that will need some kind of support, such as poles or a trellis. Also, like green beans, they are a warm-season crop. Wait to plant dry beans until after the danger of frost is past, the soil has warmed to at least 60 degrees and the average air temperature is above 50 degrees.

One difference in growing dry beans is the need to inoculate the seed with a soil bacterium that works with the plants’ roots to capture nitrogen from the air and fix it so it can be used for plant growth. Because you cannot tell if your soil already has this natural bacterium present, experts recommend mixing dry bean seed with Rhizobium leguminosarum, the specific inoculate needed for beans. You can obtain this innoculate from Vermont Bean Seed Company, other seed companies or your local farm store or specialty nursery. Just make sure it contains the specific inoculate needed for beans.

Want to learn more about growing dry beans? Go to

Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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Missing the Portland Japanese Garden’s winter foliage? Take a road trip to Pasadena’s Storrier Stearns Japanese …

Japanese gardens are the “most beautiful in the rain,” Deanie Nyman told callers interested in attending the year’s first event at the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden, which is hidden in a residential neighborhood n Pasadena, California.

On Jan. 31, visitors were treated to shimmering ginkgo tree leaves, raindrops creating ripples on the ponds and the sound of water dropping onto blue tiles topping walls that enclose the once-secluded garden.

For decades, no one could see the two-acre landscape except guests of a wealthy Pasadena couple, Charles and Ellamae Storrier Stearns, who had a part of their large estate transformed in the 1930s into a Japanese hill-and-pond stroll garden.

In the late 19th century until World War II, Americans like architect Frank Lloyd Wright were fascinated by Japanese culture, aesthetic and design. Japanese-style gardens were created across the country and the Storrier Stearns garden is one that has remained largely intact.

Today, a nonprofit manages the grounds, and donations, admission and rental fees fund preservation and restoration work.

There’s a new wooden entry gate that replaced the one moved to the Japanese Friendship Garden at Balboa Park in San Diego, California. The original teahouse burned down in 1981, but a replica of the 12-tatami-mat building was constructed on the same spot. A house, built in the 1950s, is used as a meeting and event space.

The garden was open to the public on the last Sunday of the month. Starting this year, the garden is also open on Thursdays with reservations. Visitors see a waterfall cascading down a 25-foot-high hill and take paths that pass by sycamores and oaks, and over bridges and ponds.

The original designer of the landscape, teahouse and bridges, Kinzuchi Fujii, based his ideas on gardens he had seen in Japan before he immigrated to the U.S.

He worked seven years creating the garden and importing materials from Japan until, in 1942, he was sent to a World War II internment camp. He never saw the garden again.

“Kinzuchi considered the Storrier Stearns garden his masterpiece and carried the photographs and plans documenting the creation of the garden with him, in the single suitcase allowed by the government, into internment,” according to the garden’s website.

By 1950, after the Storrier Stearns’ deaths, the estate was sold at auction to art and antiques dealer Gamelia Haddad Poulsen.

The Georgian mansion was dismantled but the garden was maintained until Caltrans wanted to sliced through the middle of it in 1975 to create an access road for trucks building the extension of the 710 freeway. That didn’t happen but the state’s highway agency did take a strip off the easternmost side of the garden.

When Poulsen died in 1985, her son and daughter-in-law, Jim and Connie Haddad, received the land and still own it.

They started to restore it in 1990, following Fujii’s original plans. They worked with landscape architect Takeo Uesugi, who was also responsible for the redesign of The Huntington Japanese Garden at the Huntington Library in San Marino and the Japanese Friendship Garden expansion in San Diego, California.

In the beginning, Fujii was guided by these design principles to create “a real, uncompromising Japanese garden in the United States”:

  • Cement lanterns and semi-circular wooden bridges were inevitable in Japanese-style gardens in the U.S. but deemed unnecessary in traditional Japanese garden design.
  • Expensive materials are not required in Japanese garden-making.
  • Common timber, rocks and shrubbery, found on the site, should be transformed into real assets by the true artist.
  • One should take in the natural surroundings as part of the garden design.
  • Perhaps merging the garden end with the distant undulating hills in the site’s background.
  • High mountains and great expanse(s) of water may be combined for similar visual effects.

Since 2005, the restored Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden, at 270 Arlington Dr.
 in Pasadena, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Like the Portland Japanese Garden, the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden is a member of the Portland-based North American Japanese Garden Association and is part of the Oregonian’s Japanese garden road trip series.

The Portland Japanese Garden, considered one of the most authentic outside of Japan, closed in September to start its $33.5 million expansion. It will reopen in March while construction continues through April 2017. The grand opening is projected for Spring 2017.

See what the expansion will look and feel like at a free exhibition, “Tsunagu: Connecting to the Architecture of Kengo Kuma,” which runs Feb. 4-29 at the Center for Architecture in downtown Portland. On display will be images and construction drawings of the garden’s ambitious entrance remodel.

Here are other road trips to Japanese gardens, including the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, near Pasadena.

Show us your photos: Email your favorite photo of the Portland Japanese Garden taken on a previous fall and winter day to to be included in our reader photo gallery.

— Janet Eastman

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Retired NRD manager reflects on 40 years of arguments, progress

YORK — Thirty-eight years ago today, John C. Turnbull walked in the door here as general manager of the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District.

His second day on the job, Jan. 31, 1978, Turnbull and the NRD board of directors presided over a public hearing in which they put the district’s first-ever set of draft groundwater rules and regulations up for patrons’ critique.

The experience is seared on Turnbull’s memory. He remembers how he and the board sat at a long table across the front of the York City Auditorium, staring out at an angry constituency.

“There were 400 mad farmers,” he said. “It was really a hot meeting.”

Now, 38 years and a good many hot meetings later, Turnbull is stepping away from the table. His retirement becomes effective Jan. 30.

As he looks back on his 40-year career as an NRD leader, he notes a world of change in some respects. Whereas the notion of groundwater regulation was almost completely foreign in Nebraska in the 1970s, nowadays it’s a settled part of life — even if it still grates on many patrons and their sense of personal autonomy.

“Nobody had really regulated groundwater in the state,” Turnbull said, remembering his early years on the job. “It was a whole new concept. It’s a long, slow process to get a set of regulations in place.”

Today, the district’s groundwater management department alone has seven employees, and he can foresee that number rising to 12 in years to come as the regulatory workload increases. In part to provide more room for that additional staff, the district later this year will occupy a brand-new headquarters campus on the site of the old York Municipal Airport.

Effective this month, flowmeters are required on all of the district’s 12,000 or so irrigation wells, which serve more than 1.2 million irrigated acres in York, Hamilton, Adams, Clay, Fillmore, Saline, Seward, Butler and Polk counties. All irrigators are required to self-report their yearly pumpage.

Through it all, Turnbull has been ready to explain the staff’s position to anyone who wanted to talk, whether they were board members, patrons, or even an inquiring state senator or two. Some of his recent conversations have been with the grandchildren of farmers who were bending his ear nearly four decades ago.

His philosophy, he said, has been to lay his cards on the table, spend the time necessary to explain what the district is trying to accomplish and why, and then receive whatever feedback follows.

“We’ve tried over the years to be open with people,” said Turnbull, who at age 71 announced his retirement plans in a letter to board members Nov. 5, 2015. “We tell them what we think, but this place is open. I will talk to anybody about what they see as unfairness and problems with the system. People know me; they know the board. That’s local government.”

Rod DeBuhr, who has worked for Turnbull at the UBBNRD since 1979 and now serves as the district’s assistant general manager, said Turnbull has been an able leader who supported his staff and took a concise and steady, yet proactive stance toward the district’s responsibilities.

DeBuhr spent most of his career in the district’s groundwater department and was its manager for many years.

“John has always been a leader in that area — a very strong supporter of local control for groundwater management and water management in general,” he said. “Without his leadership, I think it would have been far more difficult for our district to get clear direction on how to do things.

“John has always been a very good collaborator with the staff, and he always defended the staff when there was controversy. He was a really good boss to everybody.”

Mike Onnen, general manager of the neighboring Little Blue NRD based in Davenport, said Turnbull is well-known for his leadership skills and his thoughtful approach to the NRDs’ role and purpose.

“John was a sound and logical thinker,” Onnen said. “We conferred often on various resources and management matters, and I always thought he had sage advice.”

Finding his place

Nebraska’s NRD system was created by act of the Nebraska Legislature in 1969 and came online in 1972. The controversial LB1357, shepherded to passage by state Sen. Maurice Kremer of Aurora and signed into law by Gov. Norbert Tiemann, had supplanted 154 local conservation districts around the state with 24 new regional NRDs. The number of districts later dropped to 23.

At the time the NRD drama was unfolding, however, a University of Nebraska graduate and Vietnam veteran named John Turnbull had other issues on his mind.

Turnbull grew up around Fairbury before moving with his mother and sister to Southern California in 1957. After graduating from high school there, he returned home to attend NU, where he earned a degree in agronomy in 1966.

Having been a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps at NU, Turnbull then went on active duty with the U.S. Army, flying combat helicopter missions in Vietnam. He returned to a stateside posting in 1968 and the following year married his wife, Gloria, whom he had met at the university.

After Turnbull left the Army in 1969 (he later would spend many years with the Nebraska National Guard), they lived in the Tacoma, Wash., area for four years. There, John managed a grass sod farm with about 20 employees.

In 1973, they moved to Brighton, Colo., where he took a similar job with a larger sod operation.

By 1975, Turnbull was ready for a career change. He recalled a conversation from a couple of years earlier with a fraternity brother, Dave Mazour, who had been working for the Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Commission, forerunner to the Natural Resources Commission, in which Mazour mentioned a new state system of conservation districts then under development.

What had been of passing interest to Turnbull at that time suddenly took on new importance, and he wondered if he might have a role to play. He contacted Mazour, who was from the Lawrence area originally and served as general manager of the Little Blue NRD based in Davenport from 1975-85.

“I said, ‘What are those conservation district thingies?’” Turnbull recalled, a bit tongue-in-cheek. “He said, ‘Those are NRDs.’ I said. ‘What’s an NRD?’ ”

Mazour recommended that Turnbull contact Russ Edeal of Loomis, then chairman of the Tri-Basin NRD based in Holdrege, whose district was looking for a manager at that time. After surviving the interview, he got the job.

“I had never sat before a board of 13 people before in my life,” he said. “I was petrified.”

Little did he know it, but he would find himself on the hot seat again many times over the years — and in front of a lot more than 13 people.

Navigating new waters

In the beginning, Turnbull said, he and his counterpart managers in other districts were just trying to find their way and figure out how to make the districts run smoothly while abiding by the strictures imposed on any government operation.

Unlike Turnbull, however, many of the other managers had been working in Nebraska and in the conservation field, either for a state or federal agency, before joining the NRDs.

He remembers early on calling the late Ron Bishop, legendary longtime manager of the Central Platte NRD in Grand Island, seeking a little advice from someone he viewed as an oldtimer within the system.

“Ron said, ‘You’ve got to understand, none of us have done this for more than three years,’ ” Turnbull said. “We did a lot of idea trading among the managers in terms of trying to manage these animals.”

In the Tri-Basin NRD, which includes Kearney, Phelps and Gosper counties, Turnbull learned about irrigation practices in an area where many acres were served with surface water through the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District (Tri-County) canal system.

In short order, the workload began to increase with passage of LB577, the Nebraska Groundwater Management Act, which charged all NRDs with the responsibility of regulating groundwater. (Surface water is regulated by the state itself.) The districts were required to, among other things, develop a groundwater management plan for their jurisdictions.

One major duty in those days was to resolve disputes between neighbors over irrigation tailwater and the flooding it caused — common occurrences in a time when gravity irrigation was prevalent, and water would stand in the low ends of fields until it could escape to a drainageway or road ditch.

“Nowadays we don’t have that problem because irrigation methods have changed so much,” he said. “We just don’t have the runoff like we used to have. That’s been a change for the better.”

In 1978, after “arm twisting” from friends and colleagues, Turnbull applied for the open manager position in the Upper Big Blue district in York — mainly, he says, because he thought it might be a positive career move.

“The district had more staff and a bigger budget,” he said. “That’s what finally attracted me, was a chance to get into a little bigger operation.”

Unlike the Tri-Basin district, the UBBNRD has no surface irrigation districts. And when Turnbull arrived on the job, the district’s draft groundwater rules and regulations were Item No. 1 on his agenda.

Over the 13 months that followed, the document was tweaked, finalized, approved and implemented.

Back then, Turnbull said, many farmers believed that, even though Nebraska law declares groundwater to be a shared resource, the government had no business telling a landowner what to do with the water under his property or requiring that he measure usage. The idea of flowmeters was anathema, at least in part because farmers suspected it might lead to future taxation of water consumption.

Nowadays, he said, farmers still think in highly personal terms about their ability to irrigate. A chief focus is on the sustainability of their own farming operation, and on their family’s ability to pass down the land to the next generation.

Today’s conversations are less emotional, however, and more pragmatic. Regulation is more accepted even if not appreciated, and farmers’ focus is on meeting their challenges and moving on.

“Rather than protesting, it’s ‘help me figure out how to make it work,’” Turnbull said. “That’s a huge attitude change. It didn’t happen overnight.”

Making his case

In addition to his NRD duties, Turnbull served 22 years as Blue River Basin representative to the Nebraska State Irrigation Association board of directors — a role in which he shared NRDs’ perspectives with surface irrigators who had different ideas about the ways interconnected groundwater and surface water supplies ought to be managed.

Whether it has been talking to NRD board members or patrons, surface irrigation friends or state senators, he said, it’s important for NRDs to be able to lay out their position and explain it well.

“That’s my philosophy,” he said. “You’ve got to explain things to people, and you’ve got to explain things to them in a way they can understand it.”

Meanwhile, the landscape has continued to change in more ways than one. For example, groundwater irrigation development has exploded, and economics have driven changes in technology. Whereas the UBBNRD had about 720,000 irrigated acres in 1981 and 80-90 percent of those acres were gravity-irrigated, the district is virtually fully developed for irrigation today, with 80-90 percent of 1.2 million acres watered by center-pivot sprinkler.

At the same time, the political landscape has shifted. While all is not harmonious between groundwater and surface water interests, Turnbull said, the two groups today must identify their common ground and present a united front as the state’s population and political representation continue to shift toward Lincoln and Omaha.

“We don’t have the political strength to go it alone,” he said.

Onnen, Turnbull’s neighboring NRD counterpart, said he has witnessed his friend’s leadership at the state level and beyond.

“John has been a valued and respected leader among the NRD managers and other resources managers around the country,” Onnen said. “He served as chairman of several managers’ committees over the years and in various roles at the state level where he was a valuable contributor to natural resources program development. His keen sense of responsibility and purpose dictated actions that were well thought-out, practical and effective.

“Although the challenges he faced were not always easy or popular, he was motivated to act for the greater good and the long-term protection of the resources.”

Taking pride

As 2016 gets under way, Turnbull is ready for a change in his personal life — more time working on landscaping projects with Gloria, traveling to visit their children, and keeping up with their civic involvement in York.

Looking ahead for the Upper Big Blue district, he foresees greater activity in the area of groundwater quality as nitrate concentrations continue to grow.

Someday, he said, the district may need to step in and help multiple small communities source a supply of safe drinking water for themselves, perhaps through rural water districts, since the communities can’t afford to solve the problem on their own.

“I think the district has to be involved in leading this effort,” he said.

At the same time, he looks back on 38 years in office with some satisfaction. He is pleased that the 17-member district board has grown into a cohesive group that lets the 25-member professional staff do its job. He’s glad decision making in the district is less tumultuous than it was in the old days, and that the district has been able to accomplish much, whether in the regulatory realm or in building interesting projects like Recharge Lake near York and the Plum Creek flood plain redevelopment in Seward.

Of course, not all plans materialized.

“We have a basement full of plans and drawings that didn’t go anywhere,” he said.

Nebraska has a good thing going with the NRDs, he said — districts large enough to avoid getting mired in the most local politics, with a reliable source of property tax funding, the power of eminent domain to keep worthy projects on track, responsive elective boards, and enough resources to maintain expert staffs.

In a state as topographically, geologically and agronomically diverse as Nebraska, local control is seen as key.

“Conditions are different all across the state, and you want local folks to sort out what’s the best way to handle it in a given area,” Turnbull said.

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King’s Material Inc. – Quad

This information was submitted by a vendor who will be at the 39th annual Quad Cities Builders Remodelers Association Home Show Feb. 5-7, 2016, at the QCCA Expo Center, 2621 4th Ave., Rock Island. 

— King’s Material Inc., 3800 S. 1st St., Eldridge, IA 52748


What products and services do you offer?

We are a supplier of masonry products (brick and stone), including tools and landscaping materials, for both commercial and residential projects. Our location has a production facility for concrete block as well. The showroom was recently remodeled to be more design-friendly. We offer color and material consultations by our in-house designer to assist the client in the selection process.

How did your business get started?

King’s Material Inc. started business in 1882, when William King established a plaster mill on the west bank of the Cedar River. The company kept the river channels open for navigation by dredging sand for construction and municipal use.

King’s Crown Plaster, as it was then called, began delivering ready-mix concrete in three-quarter-yard mixers to industrial, commercial, infrastructure and residential construction projects in the area in 1935.

In the late 1970s, several concrete-block-manufacturing plants were acquired. A new facility was built in 2000.

In 1998, Stone Concepts, a stone-fabricating facility, was purchased to complement the masonry products line of brick and other distributed masonry goods.

In 2003, Marquart Concrete Products was acquired to serve northern Iowa. Marquart’s block- manufacturing plant was opened in 1945. With its wide variety of landscaping, concrete masonry and brick products, it sells building materials throughout northern Iowa as well as in southern Minnesota.

What are some of the latest trends in your industry?

Stone has become the leading material in the residential market, just as it has throughout the country. However, brick and block are staying strong in commercial. The most recent trend would be the use of masonry on the interior. No longer is just your fireplace accented with stone or brick; we see full walls, backsplashes, ceilings and floors with our product now. Thin masonry materials have made this concept available to the homeowner because is it much lighter in weight.

What will you be showcasing at the Home Show?

We have three main features at the 2016 show. Our backdrop will show an interior accent wall with a lighted custom niche veneered in a crystal stone. This will be very modern in decor. Our second feature item is a smokeless fire pit. Yes, smokeless! Unfortunately, we won’t be able to show how it works, but it is a hot item right now and looks great all by itself. Lastly, our bar top will be made out of a gorgeous stone surface that’s more eye-catching than granite or quartz. This will be the star of the show!

What about your business makes you most proud?

We are a family-owned company that feels a lot like a real family. Our company has five locations around the state of Iowa. The owners are wonderful at pulling us all together to brainstorm ideas and discuss trends, and our voices are always heard. That’s rare in big business!

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